if you don't step forward, you're always in the same place.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

home is where the rock and roll was.

MANILA, Philippines - I honestly am not sure where to begin. Let me try by revisiting the end. It has only been a couple of days since the station shut down and by now, the new co-owners have taken over. Justin Bieber is probably being played right now. As a musician, I have absolutely nothing against anybody making a career at any age, with any genre, at anytime. Music is music; at the very least, someone is happy, even if we all can’t agree on what happiness really is. But it is disturbing to see the call numbers on the radio dial and hear something… strange. It’s obviously not Bieber’s music or Lady Gaga’s. Pop will never be strange and disturbing. It’s just unnerving to look at the frequency readout say “107.5” and feel disembodied twice over. I know I’m no longer there… and neither are my co-workers, my friends… my family.

We don’t live there anymore.

I’m looking at messages on NU107’s Facebook page, reading bitter texts from friends, viewing YouTube links. Maybe I was too close to it, but the tears are really catching up with me as I type, and it’s amazing to confirm just how much NU was a part of everybody’s lives, and even announcers from other stations with different formats expressed their sadness. I was having my doubts… For years and years, I have been aware of the station’s financial woes, and helping Cris Hermosisima adjust the programming here and there to turn things around was an act of compromise. I knew it had to be done, even if it meant blunting the edges a bit. I figured that when things get better, we could sharpen the blade again. The Rock Awards always got good attendance, but I wonder if they stuck around after. Were they still listening? Were we still relevant? Did they just show up for the party?

NU107 was a true independent, way before that word became a hipster term. It meant we mostly had to do things on our own, which I believe is the true meaning of that word anyway. At our best times, we f***ing ruled… and at our worst, we stuck with most of our ideals and kept that rock flag flying as best we could. We didn’t give away money, we didn’t raffle off concert tickets for gigs abroad (we didn’t have the resources anyway). Any on-air gimmicks were directly related to the essence of NU107, which is/was/always will be, the music… and the local rock musicians who loved and lived it as well. NU107 was not the first rock station — we were not the first rock jocks. In fact there was a rock jock that wrote in a magazine that Zach and I, who he respected as musicians and friends, are not real rock jocks at all. I was offended but then realized he was right… and wrong. We did things NU-style, and we were doing things a bit differently. That’s what you’re supposed to do anyway. Zach in particular didn’t have the “required rock attitude” (whatever it was, we didn’t care) but amped up his natural wit. I was just my own boring somnambulistic self. But that’s NU… we weren’t playing roles. We are who we are. We were in it for the love of the music. The words “home” and “family”: if you got the chance to work with NU107, even for a week, you would feel those words. We were lenient to a fault… we rarely typed memos for truancy. We would simply talk to whoever was on the wrong side of the tracks and gently guide them back to the rails (if you did receive a memo, that would’ve been a potentially fatal document). Ron Titular did that, and Cris from the first day to the last, was the same. It didn’t mean nobody got fired: I got fired in ’91! I went AWOL too many times, and I knew I deserved it. I used that experience to remind the younger DJ aspirants of the virtues of professionalism in such a relaxed environment. Hey, I’d been there. Most of the people would eventually be welcomed back in, as I was in ’97. If you weren’t re-hired, I’m sorry, but you were probably a world-class champion a-hole. Enjoy that Douchebag Trophy; we don’t need it anymore.

I will own this: nobody can ever claim to really call NU home but me… because I literally lived there. Back in the day at Solidbank building’s 17th floor, I slept in Tom “Major Tom” Lupton’s ratty sleeping bag for years in a hidden corner beside the newscaster’s desk. I took baths in the janitor’s stockroom. I couldn’t afford my own place then, and going back and forth to Lipa City every day was not a practical option. When the station moved to Strata 200, there was a couch, and a spacious women’s bathroom with tons of water. I still couldn’t afford my own space; so again, for years, “going home” for me meant the booth itself. I want to thank everybody for understanding my situation and allowing me to do that, with my laundry tucked in a corner, my guitars in another, the occasional smelly sock… I seriously doubt any other radio station would ever be that gracious. Those years of not sleeping on a proper bed was bad for my posture but great for developing my resilience: I can sleep anywhere, anytime, in the most uncomfortable of positions, and in the noisiest of environs.

NU107 has employed DJs of all shapes, sizes, genders, and temperaments. So does everybody else, I suppose, but the ones who will permanently be “family” are the ones who, on the day of their audition, do not have a “DJ” air about them. Most of us who became part of the air team… we were the bullied ones in high school, the nerds in college, the quiet ones fiercely obsessed with music and its related culture. We all absolutely loved and lived the music, and the station obviously benefited from that. We all knew what we were talking about. But at the same time, almost none of us held a grudge against anybody else. We were all non-psychopathic misfits.

Fellow DJ Myrene and I have talked about it over the years. One look at an aspirant, one word — and you just knew, “Eeerrrr, not gonna last.” Attitude, I guess, was the main ingredient. I have auditioned and accepted a few DJs in the last few years with wonderful voices. It is radio, they must sound good, but the vibe was wrong from the start… and consequently they didn’t last. NU was always open and welcoming, but life could’ve been so much easier if I had listened to the blips on my “Radar For A**holes.” But I guess I didn’t; unlike the early days, there were no call centers and I know that there are many potential NU Rock Jocks out there who will never be because being a call center trainer is far more lucrative. We needed good people, and it was becoming more and more difficult. The NU paycheck was never, ever attractive; those who stayed were encouraged to find side jobs. I would always say exactly the same thing to anybody who auditioned: “You must love this, and that love won’t pay your bills. We encourage you to find an extra job, just make sure you follow our schedule. Game?” It was very painful when some of our best ones had to leave. I’ve had my heart broken so many times. The best ones had the talent, and that love. Losing them on-air was just as painful as knowing I wouldn’t get to bond with them again as before.

The line-up became stable, finally, last year. I got used to losing one or two in the past, but to lose the entire team in one fell swoop… I’m just so happy that the last air team genuinely loves and cares for each other as with the best batches in NU history. We were approaching a creative upswing as well and I could feel it… but it was too late.

I will miss taking a cab to and from work, but at the same time, maybe not. The cab’s radio will be on, a “masa” station, the DJ will be cracking the latest tired joke and treating music like wallpaper, not bothering to tell listeners either the title oor the artist’s name unless it’s a sponsored spot. I respect the success of the masa stations; it’s the law of supply and demand, basic economics… and unfortunately, those basics failed to excite sponsors for NU107. I am glad to be free of those daily reminders.

But I do have to go out soon and I will have to ride a cab. I can only hope that the radio will either be off or set to AM news radio. If I hear the familiar masa tonality and the readout says “107.5”… “manong driver, kung nababasa nyo po ito, ako yung pasahero na bigla na lang iiyak, at ngayon pa lamang ay humihingi na ako ng paumanhin.”

I remain optimistic that NU107 will resurface in some shape or form. Nobody can deny the love we gave and received in the past 23 years, including the people who’ve outgrown us. We were still a part of your lives, you prodigals, and we still love you back.

Kinda funny to keep talking about “home,” “love” and “family” when describing a rock station, isn’t it?

Well, for others, those words became taglines and station IDs.

NU107 lived and meant those words.

- by francis reyes.

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